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Allegations of link-up between Socialist Action, Workers Power and Russian Far-Right.

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Should Left Back Everyone Resisting NATO?

As President Obama admits ” We don’t have a strategy yet.” one group in Britain is pretty certain he does.

The Stop the War Coalition urges people to ” Protest the NATO Summit” (? – Protest what? For, Against,?).

At a mass demonstration of 600 people (BBC estimate, StWC estimate perhaps 60,000) they expressed the views below.

The StWC focuses on NATO, “NATO is the military alliance binding Europe to US foreign policy, a foreign policy post-Iraq increasingly unpopular around the world. It is also the military alliance currently occupying Afghanistan.”

Apparently it’s all connected with the present wars and conflicts.

Or as they ask, and answer: What links Gaza, Iraq and Ukraine? The deranged policies of the US and NATO.

The most obvious but mostly unconsidered factor is that all three of these situations are directly linked to an increasingly aggressive Western foreign policy promoted by NATO over the last two or three decades.

So now we know: it’s the West’s fault.

The StWC urges mobilisation. “We need to make sure that the scale of anti-war opinion and the spirit of the great Gaza demonstrations is on display in Newport and Cardiff for all the world to see.”

Some might care to comment on the comparison between Gaza, Newport and Cardiff.

But for the instant other matters arise.

One group of people on the British left  seem to have taken the analysis  of NATO to a very definite conclusion.

They are now working with the “enemy” of the “West” on the issue of Ukraine.

A conclusion with practical consequences not all will admire.

The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (here, hat-tip D) publishes the allegations below about the alliances of some of those on the British Left protesting against the Ukrainian government – that is ‘NATO’s ally’.

Less than two months ago Richard Brenner (Workers Power) and Alan Freeman (Socialist Action) were feted in the Hotel Yalta-Intourist by assorted Russian fascists and ultra-nationalists at a conference about Ukraine. The same initiative, meeting again this weekend, will apparently be without them.

The first conference produced a “Declaration” (full of worthy anti-fascist and anti-war verbiage, designed for a European/US left-liberal audience) and a “Manifesto” (which amounted to a programme to wipe Ukraine off the face of the earth, or at least to reduce it to the borders of pre-World-War-One Galicia).

Brenner defended his attendance at the conference on the grounds that “some of the people in the resistance are nationalists and socially reactionary on some (not all) questions.” As for the “Manifesto”, according to Brenner, “there is nothing reactionary in its practical proposals.”

(An astonishing conclusion, bearing in mind that the title of the Manifesto – “Manifesto of the Popular Front for the National Liberation of Ukraine, Novorossiya and Transcarpathian Rus’” – was itself a “practical proposal” for the dismemberment of Ukraine.)

This weekend’s conference in the same hotel is entitled “Russia, Ukraine, Novorossiya: Global Problems and Challenges”, and will launch what it calls the “Anti-Fascist (Anti-Maidan) Council of the Russian Federation”. (1)

The conference is organised by the “Co-ordination Centre for Novaya Rus’” – one of the organisations headed by Aleksei Anpilogov which ran the earlier conference attended by Brenner and Freeman.

Three of the conference’s listed speakers attended the earlier conference: Anpilogov, Vladimir Rogov and Pyotr Getsko. (Anpilogov can fairly be described as a nationalist-cum-fascist; the latter two are more ultra-nationalist/fascist-fellow-travellers.)

But this time they are not meeting with a couple of (possibly) useful idiots from the British left.

Keynote speakers at the conference include Igor Strelkov-Girkin and Alexander Borodai (respectively, former Defence Minister and former Prime Minister of the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’). Both are members of the Izborsky Club, a Russian fascist ‘think tank’ headed up by Alexander Prokhanov and Alexander Dugin.

Sergei Glazyev (presidential aide to Putin, and a member of the Izborsky Club) will also address the conference, as too will Mikhail Delyagin (Russian academic and a member of the Izborsky Club).

Other speakers include Mikhail Sheremet (former head of the ‘Crimean Self-Defence’ which worked with the Russian military in the annexation of the Crimea, subsequently appointed Crimean Deputy Prime Minister) and Mateusz Piskorski:

“Piskorski is an open proponent of Nazism, a holocaust denier, and the author of articles in the portals “White World” and “I, A Russian”. He was the leading light of the Polish skinhead paper ‘Odala’, where he praised the Aryan race and Adolf Hitler.” (2)

Publicity for the conference states that it will be attended by “members of the Izborsky and Zinoviev Clubs”.

The latter Club is named after the late Soviet philosopher Alexander Zinoviev: an admirer of Stalin, a supporter of Milosevic, and an opponent of Western values. The Club is concerned with the restoration of “traditional Russian values”.

Also attending the conference will be “parliamentary and government delegations from twelve European countries.” So far, only one of them has been named: Marton Dyondyoshi, a leading figure in the Hungarian far-right and particularly anti-semitic party Jobbik.

The list of speakers shows the hollowness of the expression “anti-fascist” in the context of this conference and its goal of setting up an “Anti-Fascist Council”.

(It is no less hollow in the context of: “Campaign in Solidarity with the Anti-Fascist Resistance in Ukraine”, to which Workers Power, Socialist Action and other more explicit brands of Stalinism are affiliated.)

There is nothing “anti-fascist” about the politics of the Izborsky Club members. There is nothing “anti-fascist” about the politics of Dyondyoshi. There is nothing “anti-fascist” about the politics of the French National Front (regularly praised on separatist websites).

“Anti-fascist”, in this context, is no more than a verbal fig-leaf to cover up for straightforward Russian-imperialist aggression against Ukraine. And the fact that the organisers of the first Yalta conference have now organized this weekend’s event, inviting along sundry fascists, Hitler-admirers and anti-semites, tells you a lot about their own politics as well.

But for the likes of Worker’s Power, perhaps Jobbik should now also be classed as no more than “nationalists (who are) socially reactionary on some (not all) questions”?

1) http://delyagin.ru/news/81020-rossiya-ukraina-novorossiya-globalnyje-problemy-i-vyzovy.html
2) http://sz-n.com/2014/03/piskorski-head-of-international-observers-in-the-crimea-is-known-fascist-and-anti-semite/

It is important also to see this from the AWL  here.

Confirmation of their report, “Veterans of the Russian military and special forces, together with rights activists and representatives of Orthodox Christian community, are to jointly launch a group to try and thwart any attempts to forcefully change the political system in the country.” more Spetsnaz veterans to launch ‘anti-Maidan council’ in Russia (Russia Today).

 

Written by Andrew Coates

August 30, 2014 at 4:20 pm

Iraqi Communists Call on World’s Proletariat to unite against Islamists.

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Glory to the Iraqi Communists!

As news came in from Iraq on Thursday that the troubled nation’s low-key communist party had scored a rare military victory over Islamic extremists of the ISIS near Baghdad, their Indian counterparts were passively watching the spectre of large-scale desertion from their ranks to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with its quasi fascist Hindu revivalist agenda.

The Iraqi Communist Party spokesman announced that the party in control of the Red Army fought a ground battle with armed Islamic State (ISIS) in the vicinity of the Northwest of Baghdad.

The Red Army killed 38 armed rebels and captured 107 people. They achieved “tactical victory in the full sense”.

They stated that at first many people began to join the Islamic fundamentalists after the collapse of the existing government forces but are now joining the Communist Party.

According to media reports from Qatar, a spokesman for the Iraqi Communist Party Mikhail Grew spoke publicly to the world. He called on the world proletariat to unite in support of their Iraqi Red Army against the Islamic extremists and fight against religious extremism who endanger people’s lives and safety.

From here.

 

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Iraqi CP – In solidarity with our Yazidi people

 

Statement of the Political Bureau of the Iraqi Communist Party

In solidarity with our Yazidi people

Concerted national efforts are needed to recapture the areas seized by criminal Isis gangs

We have been following with great anger and condemnation the brutal practices and horrific crimes committed by the criminal gangs of “Isis” against our Yazidi people that aim at eliminating this indigenous cultural and religious component of Iraq. These terroist and rogue gangs have killed the children of Yazidi people, captured and enslaved their women, destroyed their temples and desecrated their religious symbols. These heinous crimes are classified under international law as crimes against humanity.

These crimes represent another episode of the series of barbaric attacks waged by the terrorist gangs of “Isis” against the Iraqi homeland and people. It is part of the suspicious scheme that has extended over the whole of Iraqi territory, affecting all citizens, including Arabs, Kurds, Turcomans and Shabak; Muslims, Christians and Yazidis; Sunnis and Shiites.

While reaffirming the Iraqi Communist Party’s full solidarity with our Yazidi people in their cruel plight and sharing their pain as a result of this ordeal, we express our readiness to provide all possible help and contribute to the joint efforts to alleviate their suffering. We call on the Iraqi state and all its institutions to speed up the delivery of relief aid to the hundreds of thousands of displaced people who sought refuge in the mountains and caves under deteriorating conditions, and to provide the human, material and technical resources needed to accomplish these urgent tasks. In this regard, we call upon international organizations and the international community to deal with what is happening in Iraq as crimes against humanity.

In the difficult circumstances caused by this ordeal, our party calls upon all the political and social forces, parties, blocs and organizations, and in particular the forces that are in power at the level of the federal government, the Kurdistan Regional Government and the local authorities in the provinces, to unify their stance and efforts in the face of terrorism and the gangs of “Isis” and their barbaric acts.

The recapturing of the areas seized by “Isis” and eliminating it are urgent and immediate objectives that require mobilizing all national efforts. This necessitates accelerating the efforts to overcome the existing differences between the Federal Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government, and to achieve the broadest possible cooperation and coordination at both the political and military levels to ward off the dangers threatening Iraq. This also requires resolving speedily the naming of the Prime Minister nominee and embarking on forming an all-encompassing national unity government that is able to address the daunting tasks facing our country at this historic juncture.

BAGHDAD – 6 August 2014

Written by Andrew Coates

August 12, 2014 at 12:44 pm

Scottish Left Nationalists’ Plans in Ruins as SNP Plans Massive Cuts.

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Book that’s Spawned a Thousand Imaginary Communities. 

Left nationalist supporters of Scottish independence argue that the “breakup of Britain” will be  a major step forward for the left and the labour movement.

The nationalist Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) states,

The Scottish Socialist Party is built on social solidarity and the spirit of resistance to oppression, injustice and nasty con tricks that strangle communities and people’s lives.

Life can be better than this. We have the resources, the know-how, we could be building a world based on people, not profit. We can, and should, be expanding the public sector, because more and more of us need it, and it creates jobs and training, it holds communities together and it supports families.

We should be raising the minimum wage, because we can afford to do this, through cutbacks in the defence budget and the raising of taxes on the rich, and because it helps to build strong, local economies.

….

The Party asserts,

The single biggest obstacle to the Scottish people building a better society is the British State, the Westminster regime, the Crown Powers.

Genuine independence for Scotland can only come from a break up of the British State but until we get to that point the Scottish Socialist Party campaigns for a programme that can be achieved if our society is run for people, not profit.

Other nationalists even celebrate,

“the revolutionary implications of Scotland’s exit. Over three hundred years the Crown, the City of London and the Tories have been the hegemonic power. This will not be surrendered without a fight. But outside the ruling class and Scotland everybody seems pacified by the SNP selling itself as a safe pair of hands, ready to kneel before the Queen and Bank of England. Neither a post-independence SNP government, nor a Tory government in the rest of the country, will stop the impetus for constitutional change waking the sleeping giant in England and Wales.”

This will kick-start an Island (notice no mention of the rest of Europe) revolution, “….working people need more than simply defending themselves. They are hungry for a real democracy which gives them the power to change the future. If Scotland takes one step in that direction it is for us in England and Wales to take two or three.”

Steve Freeman. Republican Communist Network.

The ideas of the SSP and the RCN suffered a hammer blow when this was revealed (last year) from which they have yet to recover.

The SNP government is privately preparing for the prospect of cuts to jobs, welfare benefits and pensions after independence, amid growing concerns that Scotland faces a bleak economic future, a leaked document has shown.

Ministers in Edinburgh have also accepted the Bank of England in London would still have a controlling veto over public spending after independence under the SNP’s plans to keep the pound.

The emergence of the report, which was presented to the ScottishCabinet by finance secretary John Swinney, comes as a former economic adviser to First Minister Alex Salmond warns in today’s Scotsman that such an arrangement would be little different to the existing “block grant” Scotland gets from Westminster.

The Scotsman

The Cabinet paper reveals the Scottish Government anticipates that in four years Scotland will have a “marginally larger net deficit than the UK”.

This means a bigger gap between public spending and the taxes raised to fund them.

Expected North Sea revenues are set to fall in light of recently revised estimates, the report says, and this will hit the nation’s prospects after independence.

“Given the relative importance of North Sea revenues to Scotland’s public finances, these downwards revisions have resulted in a deterioration in the outlook for Scotland’s public finances,” it states.

The country’s expected net deficit has more than doubled from £12 billion to £28bn as a result of these revisions, the paper indicates.

“This high level of volatility creates considerable uncertainty in projecting forward Scotland’s fiscal position,” the paper adds. “This would, on present assumptions about onshore tax revenues, require some downward revision in current spending.”

This is likely to hit services in Scotland, with a warning that “these pressures could reduce the resources available to provide additional public services”.

The paper says Scotland’s armed forces would have a “much lower budget” than its population share and the SNP has said this would not be any more than £2.5bn.

The report accepts that Scotland’s budget after independence would be subject to conditions and any government at Holyrood would “have to ensure that it remained in line with any agreement on monetary union”.

The SNP has attempted to brush this off saying that

that the paper has been “overtaken by events” with oil revenues having surged on the global market to $115 a barrel. Initial estimates from the Office for Budget Responsibility put oil prices at less than $100 in the years ahead, but other forecasters have put it at $130.

They have continued to repeat this message.

But the Better Together campaign has responded by bring up the same topic,

The SNP’s oil fund will put your taxes up

In public the SNP tell us that an independent Scotland could have not one but two oil funds without the need for tax rises, spending cuts or extra borrowing to fund this.

Yet a confidential Scottish Government paper, which we are publishing today, makes clear that in private SNP Ministers are being advised by their own impartial civil servants that our taxes WOULD have to go up, public spending WOULD have to be cut or borrowing WOULD have to rise to pay for an oil fund. In fact, it could mean a combination of all three.

SNP Ministers aren’t just ignoring this impartial advice – they are doing exactly what this advice warns against.

We have also produced a simple document contrasting what SNP Ministers say in public with what they are being advised privately.You can read this here andshare on Facebook and twitter here

Read the Scottish Government’s paper, revealed under FOI law, here.

Looking at how oil money has been needed to pay for public services over the last 20 years SNP’s confidential cabinet paper concludes:

“If the Scottish Government had wished to invest in an oil fund, without having to increase its borrowing, there would have had to have been a corresponding increase in tax receipts or reduced public spending.”

If the SNP are being told this in private why can’t they just be honest with the Scottish people?

Speaking today, the leader of Better Together Alistair Darling said:

“This is the third time in a year that the SNP have been caught out saying one thing in public while knowing the opposite was true in private. The SNP have quite deliberately set out to deceive the Scottish public.

“Scotland doesn’t have to be faced with this choice. Being part of the UK means we have the strength of a bigger economy without the risk of oil volatility.”

By pooling and sharing our resources across the whole of the UK we are best placed to get the benefit from the North Sea.

The basic contours of these problems have not changed since.

So, one thing is clear, the SNP is as much as obstacle to left politics as the trinity of, “British State, the Westminster regime, the Crown Powers”

We hope that the left nationalists will not descend into arguing over the ownership of “their” nation’s oil as a way out of their problems – to avoid addressing the right-wing pro-market nature of any feasible ‘independent’ Scotland. .

But once you’ve gone down the nationalist road it’s hard to know exactly where you will end up.

For a detailed critique of how Scottish left nationalism is far from left politics and far from any form of critical left approach to capitalism and globalisation, See: The Break-Up of Tom Nairn?

Tom Nairn, Pariah: Misfortunes of the British Kingdom, Verso, 2002. Hardback, 300pp, £15.99. Reviewed by Andrew Coates. What Next? 

Also see: Paul Tesdale. Yes Means Power to Capital. Chartist May/June 2014.


Ben Gummer Ipswich MP: Reshuffled Out?

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Last Known Sighting of Ben: I Make Fun Stuff ! 

Popular Ipswich MP, Ben Gummer (Unofficial Minister for Ipswich, Honorary Mayor of Ipswich, Acting Editor, Ipswich Star, Benefactor of the Shrine of Lady Lane), has been less than visible lately.

His last major political achievement was this, “February 2014 BISHOP’S HILL LIGHTS STOPPED.”

Sadly the sprightly Latin scholar, and author of the definitive guide to the Black Death (1), does not appear to have benefited from the recent Cabinet Reshuffle.

His position as Michael Gove’s PPS has, well, lapsed.

For all his prestigious unofficial and honorary posts, Ben did not figure in the roll of honour that was at the command of Leader David Cameron.

Rumours that Ben is seeking a bolt-hole in the West County have flourished in the absence of any more definitive news.

We hope to be informed of developments on this front.

The fate of the Gummer dynasty is in the balance.

 

(1) Fittingly the last outbreak of bubonic plague in England occurred on the nearby Shotley Peninsula in 1910 (Here). 

 

Written by Andrew Coates

July 22, 2014 at 11:07 am

Charlie Kimber, SWP and Bears – a Cautionary Tale.

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Happier Days for ‘Red’ Charlie Kimber. 

 

How a respectable public schoolboy fell amongst reds and came to a horrible end.

 

“Young Charlie Kimber was a real hard red,

He even read Das Kapital in bed,

At Eton, where he studied hard,

The scholars thought him quite a card.

 

When Kimber, he was twenty-three,

His daddy bought him S.W.P.

His comrade, the honorable Alex,

Was both his helpmate and his bollix.

 

Charlie stopped the  port and vintage wine,

and going out to restaurants to dine.

Just mushy-peas and Mars-bars fried,

no more tomatoes ripe sun-dried.

 

He dropped his ‘aitches one by one,

And shouted when the Gunners won.

He drank white cider by the bucket,

And stacked his tinnies on the buffet.

 

One day their paper made a joke,

A first – against a younger Eton bloke.

A Bear and death, were cause for fun,

And a very  laboured pun.

 

Dukes and Lords, they cut him out

The papers loathed the filthy lout,

Kimber, he was full of glee,

He kept right on his prolo spree.

 

One day he journeyed to the Zoo,

It was a conservationist do.

He drank Jack Frost till he was tight,

And then he sailed off to the night.

 

Pausing by a large black cage,

A Polar bear in hopeless rage.

A paw reached out, and struck him dead.

That was the end of Charlie Red.

 

Moral

It is the duty of the wealthy man,

Not to ape the artisan.

 

 Polar Bear in London Zoo: not unlike the one that thumped Charlie Kimber.

Below: Socialist Worker. See The Independent.

 

 

 

 

Written by Andrew Coates

July 12, 2014 at 11:08 am

Suffolk Needs a Pay Rise, Ipswich Public Services Demonstration.

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Grandma Gilles on Ipswich Demo. (Thanks Ellie).

Over 300 people  came to the demo in Ipswich called by the Trades Council and local unions, Suffolk Needs a Pay Rise,  yesterday.

In Ipswich there were well attended pickets at the Russell Road Borough and County Council offices, at Crown Pools, the Borough Council Waste depot (dust-carts – the majority of which did not go out), and HMRC offices in Lower Brook Street.

59 Suffolk schools were affected by strike action and 17 closed for the day.

At the march and rally there were members of UNISON, GMB, FBU, UNITE, PCS & NUT, NUJ, DPAC, the Peoples Assembly, other unions and campaigns, as well as members of the public.

The Suffolk People’s Assembly (Facebook)  report notes,

Many speakers at the rally expressed their anger at the wage freeze public sector workers have faced over the past 4 years. This has led to a 20% decline in real wages at the same time as increased workload. One PCS member said that he was now doing 2 peoples’ jobs and facing constant performance reviews, which was destroying his job satisfaction.

A parent talked of her support for the teachers’ strike, to defend her and other people’s education. The Ipswich NUT Secretary, Margaret  Bulaitis, spoke about how the the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, denigrated the work of her profession, and was more interested in promoting academies and privatisation than the needs of school students.

Martin, from Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), gave an impassioned speech on the effects cuts and changes to the benefit system were having on those with disabilities.

Support came from the National Union of Journalists (NUJ). Their representative suggested that Grandma Gilles (above) would not have put up with the attacks on public services by the Liberal-Conservative Coalition.

 Ipswich Tory Attacks Strikes. 

Ipswich Tory MP, Ben Gummer, disagrees.

He said (Ipswich Star) that, “public sector workers had fared better than the private sector during the recession.”

He said striking teachers were damaging the education of the children in their classes.

And he said the government was taking action to clamp down on tax avoidance by the rich and to help the low paid.

“This government has lifted two million people out of paying income tax altogether and the gap between rich and poor is getting smaller for the first time in 20 years.”

Gummer’s figures are certainly creative.

Sky news states (May 2014),

“The gap between rich and poor in Britain has become wider, with 10% of the population now owning almost half of the nation’s household wealth.

Those same one in ten households own assets worth over £1m – that’s almost 1.4 million homes.

Teachers’ Unions argue that it is Michael Gove’s ‘reforms’ are undermining education.

Their dispute about  pay, pensions and working conditions, is linked to the government’s efforts to devalue teaching, and open the way to private companies profiting from the schooling system.

Gove’s changes have created excessive workloads, and let free schools operate without democratic control and public accountability.

On public sector workers’ pay the TUC says,

Public sector workers are £2,245 worse off as a result of the coalition’s austerity policies, according to the Trades Union Congress.

NHS staff, teachers, firefighters and local government workers are among those that have lost out following pay freezes and limited pay rises since the government took office, the TUC said.

The figures, which show the average fall in real terms pay suffered by workers since May 2010, were published a day before a wave of strikes among UK public sector workers over pay, pensions and working conditions. Government policies on public sector pay have had a big impact on the spending power of almost six million UK households, according to the TUC.

The Liberal-Conservative Coalition has one overarching policy for the public sector: turning it into a source of profit for private companies.

As Thomas Picketty has noted,

Instead of holding public debt via their financial investments, the wealthiest European households would becomes the direct owners of schools, hospitals, police stations, and so on. Everyone else would then have to pay rent to use these assets and continue to produce the associated public services.”(Page 541. Capital in the Twenty-first Century. Thomas Piketty. Harvard University Press. 2014.)

The trade unions, backed by the People’s Assembly, are fighting back!

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Update: this how private companies making money out of public services in Suffolk fail to deliver:

The Work Agenda: What happened to the leisure society? Rory O’Kelly. Review.

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How Should We Look at Work? 

The Work Agenda: What happened to the leisure society? Rory O’Kelly.

Chartist Free E-Book.

O Laziness, have pity on our long misery! O Laziness, mother of the arts and noble virtues, be thou the balm of human anguish!

Paul Lafrague. The Right to Be Lazy. 1880.

One of the sections of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twentieth Century deals with the justification of colossal salaries and wealth. The media, he observes, is full of stories about business ‘stars’. They are used to indicate how graft and talent are rewarded. There is a “just inequality, based on merit, education, and the social utility of elites.” (1) Everything is slanted to suggest that that the majority of high-earners and the well-off deserve their rewards. Criticisms of pay and bonuses come when these are gained without apparent hard work.

Piketty enjoys pointing out that is impossible it is to demonstrate any connection between effort and reward in the modern economy. The part of social wealth going to Capital, and the well-off, increases regardless of individual cleverness or toil. Much depends on “luck”, the ability of top mangers to fix their own pay, and the influence of the wealthy to press for low taxes. Entrepreneurs, like Bill Gates, turn into rentiers, with more cash as they get older, they live off an initial innovation that was rarely one person’s discovery in the first place. In sum, to those that have, shall be given.

Many accept this case. But there are deeper problems. It is not just that certain kinds of elite work are valued, leaving others – the majority – aside. Why is ‘work’ itself such a self-evident virtue that it makes those not-in-work look as if they are afflicted by vice? O’Kelly begins the excellent and thought-provoking The Work Agenda, by stating, “Work is seen as good in itself and maximising the number of people working and the amount of work done as self-evidently right.”

This assumption looks strange in the light of 1960s (and much later) predictions about automation and the ‘leisure society’. Paul Lafargue looked forward to a time when, thanks to the abundance created by technology, slogging your guts out was not the goal of existence. The 1970s and 1980s saw criticisms of ‘productivism’ and the cult of labour in socialist ideology. André Gorz’s Adieux aux proletariat (1981) took up these ideas. He suggested that in a “post-industrial” society people should control what is produced. They could share work according to need, and wants, with a universal guaranteed income, and more and more free-time. More modestly the French left in the late 1990s thought that the 35 Hour week would be a step in this direction.

Today, however, O’Kelly says, the obsession with the absolute value of ‘work’ blocks people from considering a “rational way of sharing the output of a society across all the members of society.” Many people may well spend time on benefits, over the course of a lifetime. Others, of a whole range of reasons, may be on them for much longer. Structural long-term unemployment is a feature of all Western societies, as is the need to help those who are incapacitated

Instead of recognizing this, and adapting social spending to it, governments, from Tony Blair onwards, have tried to push everybody into work – regardless of their medical condition, the needs of the labour market, and the rights or wishes of those to be pushed in this direction.

Putting the Disabled to Work.

The Work Agenda does not dwell on the ideology of work. Instead it is devoted to how the doctrine is used to undermine the basis of social benefits. This is most obvious from changes to the benefits for the disabled. The idea that ‘work is the best form of welfare’ is applied to the sick (which covers a multitude of diverse categories of people). There is an economic rationale, “Getting people into work is pursued primarily as a way of reducing transfers between working and non-working people; in simple terms: the cost of benefits.”

Fitting square pegs into round holes barely begins to cover the injustices that have resulted from these policies. Known to the general public through the scandals surrounding ATOS, and the ‘assessments’ of those claiming disability benefits, these are part of a much wider picture. O’Kelly’s background in the social security system helps him come to grips with the detail. He clearly knows the operations of what is now the DWP inside out, and uses them to great advantage.

The Work Agenda lays out the history and rationale of the present structure, “The driver behind the Welfare Reform Act 2007 and the creation of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) was the belief that by changing the definition of incapacity sick or disabled people could be made capable of work.” As he notes, “Until recently the medical situation was taken as an objective starting point to which the benefit system then had to respond. The great change in 2007 was to take the needs of the benefit system as the starting point (my emphasis) and to change clinical definitions to conform to those needs.” This was, as we know, a Labour government, or ‘New Labour’,  that made this turn.

O’Kelly argues (on the basis of close acquaintance with the civil service decision-making) that there never was a time when large numbers of people were classified as medically unfit in order to reduce the unemployment figures. There were always rigorous tests. What has changed is that governments have decided to change their nature.

Now it might seem reasonable – and it’s repeated often enough – to assert that there are large numbers of people who “choose” not to work. But in the case of invalidity benefits there is a simple way of determining this: medical advice. Present legislation is designed to alter the character of this criterion. Instead even ill people can be judged “capable” of working – according to a fairly loose test of what being able to carry out basic tasks is, including those even those objectively unwell can do. This O’Kelly says, means. “Effectively moving sick people into employment without improving their health”. This process is “likely simply to transfer the costs of sickness from the benefit system to statutory sick pay and private sick pay schemes.”

The problem then is not that ATOS is a particularly venal organisation – though opinions might differ on this after the company’s dissembling and bleating about being harassed. It is the changed nature of the tests for incapacity that drives the injustices that they have caused.

A persistent case is that mental troubles are rarely easily definable according to a check-list of questions and a short interview with an assessor. There are plenty of other not always ‘visible’ illnesses. As the pamphlet indicates, “It is a striking fact that the classes of people whom the government is most anxious to take off benefits for incapacity overlap very largely with those whom no rational employer (in either the public or the private sector) would want to take on.” As somebody who has sat, during various employment courses, with people with very serious mental-health issues, and others with deep health problems, we might equally ask why they are obliged to take these “preparation for work” training schemes.

Back to First Principles.

Returning to question the principles he began with, O’Kelly makes the observation that “Work (i.e. paid work) is essentially economic activity; the creation of goods and services. It is not a form of welfare, it is not a form of therapy and it is not a punishment. It can of course be used in any of these ways, rather as a stiletto heel can be used to hammer a nail into a wall. It does not do the job very well, however, and it is not very good for the shoe either.”

The work agenda is used, in effect, to “Micro-manage the lives of the poor”. Not only the disabled on what is now the Personal Independence Payment (PIP), but anybody on benefits,

are now subjected to close surveillance over their lives. This erodes personal autonomy, and increases dependency. The DWP, and private companies gaining rent from public contracts, are entrusted with the power to grossly interfere in people’s lives. They claim rights over claimants. They have fewer and fewer responsibilities to them.

For those “success stories” who get off benefits, O’Kelly notes, “The present system does also however offer scope for giving notional employment (or self-employment) to people who are able to do very little and who will continue to get the great bulk of their income through the benefit system whether nominally ‘employed’ or not. Some of these people will get psychological benefits from ‘working’; for others the effect will be the reverse.”

It might be suggested, as O’Kelly does, that the Ministers in charge of these policies have little experience of the world of ordinary work themselves. More insidious is the influence of the welfare-to-work industry. They influence policy to an undue degree, essentially with their claims to propel people into the – self evidently good – world of work. That claimants dislike them and that they are unable to meet the demands of their contracts (notoriously over the Work Programme) and capable of dissembling about their operations, is ignored.

In the meantime few people question the absolute value of this “work”, or why so many people spend their lives in low-paid, insecure, unrewarding employment. Or why those with Capital get so much more, including a slice of the revenue of those obliged to claim benefits – forced onto the welfare-to-work schemes run with the profits of wealthy private contractors foremost in mind. The culmination of this process will come when claimants will, as the Help to Work programme intends, have to work for their benefits. (2)

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(1) Page 419 Capital in the Twenty-first Century. Thomas Piketty. Harvard University Press. 2014.

(2) Picketty suggests that some free marketers propose the following “Instead of holding public debt via their financial investments, the wealthiest European households would becomes the direct owners of schools, hospitals, police stations, and so on. Everyone else would then have to pay rent to use these assets and continue to produce the associated public services.”(Page 541 – 2 Op cit). This is in effect happening in the United Kingdom, beginning with PFI. The welfare-to-work industry in effect is given a chunk of the welfare state and everybody’s taxes are used to pay rent to the owners of their enterprises.

You can read The Work Agenda as a free E-Book by clicking here.